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Recoil is nothing more than proof of Mr. Newton’s third law but it is also an insidious, evil spirit that lives in all guns.

In my time I have willingly shot guns that hurt me and learned a basic truth: no matter how tough we are- or think we are- there is always a point at which the recoil wins and we start to flinch. There is also a direct and negative correlation: the heavier the recoil the worse the accuracy.

Of course everyone responds to recoil differently but nobody is immune. When you shoot a gun and it hurts you a memory is implanted in the most primitive portion of the brain and if you keep adding insult to injury sooner or later the lizard brain is going to rebel and bestow upon you a monumental flinch.

I’ve done a lot of teaching, especially cops and women who have never fired a gun and it is hard to get them past the fear that the noise and recoil is going to hurt them. It is a perfectly normal human response, known as the startle reflex, to shy away from loud noises and things that jump around. But it is something one has to overcome to really become a good shot.

The greatest mistake anyone can make shooting a firearm is jerking the trigger and this is by far the most difficult skill to learn. Sadly it is one of those things that the shooter often cannot see and he may truly be amazed that he is missing the target. The backstop at my range is at 70 yd. and we have some nice steel targets there. Not long ago a guy was banging away and killing worms about 25 yd. downrange. That’s a big deal because there are houses behind us and a bullet skipping out might be a problem.

Anyhow I went over and suggested that he go over to one of the shorter ranges because he was jerking the trigger and not hitting the backstop. He got really hostile and huffed,
“I am NOT jerking the trigger. I was a Marine.” He wasn’t too pleased when I asked,

“Were you an officer?”

Anyhow I had to take him down and show him the recently plowed furrows and he continued to say he couldn’t possibly have done that. He left shortly…

Shooting hard kicking guns can cause physical injury although it is almost always a cumulative thing, pain is the body’s way of warning us. A good friend, the late Harry Sefried was an engineer at Ruger when they were developing the .44 Magnum Blackhawk and he had to do a 500 round test. He did it in one day and then became the first recipient of an artificial thumb joint at Yale-New Haven Hospital. I know this because we were eating supper one night in New Haven when a gentleman approached and, without a word, picked up Harry’s right hand and began flexing the thumb. Turns out he was the surgeon. Nice guy too.

My friend John Taffin reported that he became physically ill after shooting one of the mega magnums and that pain in his wrist limits his shooting.

Now I know these are extreme examples that don’t apply to many people but none of us is immune to the effects of recoil on fine motor skills. For myself I’ve learned to recognize when things start going downhill and quit while I’m ahead. One of the big ammo companies did a study of recoil effects and concluded that a level of about 5 ft/lb of free recoil is about the upper limit for the average cop. That’s slightly under the recoil for a .45 pistol.

The more you shoot guns that hurt the more bad memories get stored in that primitive brain of ours so if we store up too many they will come back to haunt you. I’ve heard people say that wouldn’t be a problem in a real situation and that is simply bogus. It may sound simplistic, but “you play like you practice” is gospel, black letter law. We revert to our most basic memories and if those include painful stimuli it may not work out well.

While it is a normal human reaction to think more is better there are almost always limiting factors but when a human being is one part of the equation it’s hard to draw fine lines. Shooters often make the mistake of starting at the top and then are forced to re-think that choice and drop down a notch or two.


When it comes down to picking a defensive firearm or ammuntion velocity is the root of all evil. It is easy to measure and sometimes it’s the only thing writers have to talk about. If they have basic math skills, or a computer, they can calculate muzzle energy and things get even worse. Some folks see a muzzle energy of 500 ft/lb and think all their problems are solved. The literal interpretation is that there is enough force to move a weight of 500 pounds the distance of one foot. The problem is that represents a constant force and bullets don’t work that way. Their energy is only applied for the merest fraction of a second.

Of course experience is the best teacher of all and there is no better lesson than to beat yourself up a bit
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Actually yes... sometimes.. it's called ball and dummy. somebody else has to load the gun so the shooter won't know whether it's a live round or a dry fire... It's the best way for them to see the result of a jerk or flinch
 

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Couldn't agree with your synopsis more Charlie. That's why I don't own or fire handguns larger than 44Magnum-level, the recoil of larger handguns does bother me. I shot a 454Casull once, one time. I quickly came to the decision that, were I to hunt anything requiring more than the 44mag, I would be better off with a suitable rifle. I certainly don't see Moose or Big-Bears in my remaining future.
 

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I have seen many Marines flinch so bad in the prone position that they would hit dirt 20 or 25 yds down the range. They got their a$$es kicked but never got over it. Most of them never qualified with the M1. Had a bad boy from NY (I still suspect it was a "Join up or go to jail" deal) who I think, never even hit the target. He and a few others marched back from Qual day with their cartridge belts on backwards up under their armpits signifying a girls bra. Some of the poor guys were even crying. From what I hear now, if you don't qualify in boot camp you get extra training and if you still can't make it, you get kicked out.

Incidentally, most of the stuff they did to us in PI in the 50's is now a big No-No and a Courts Martial offense if caught.
 

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Report and flash can also induce flinch. Dean Grennell once wrote about the "hard-kicking .45 auto" and explained that the reputation came before hearing protection became common. As we all know, the pistol is a gentle kicker, but the sound of the shot hurts the ear, so people would flinch from that.

The shooting position also makes a big difference. My '03 from an offhand position is not bad at all, but once I touched off a round while hunkered down at a shooting bench...OUCH!!! :shocked: That steel buttplate slamming against the bones in my shoulder felt like a literal "kick"! I'm a "manly man", but I was also quick to find some padding.

There's also the expectation/fear problem. If a newbie expects to get kicked silly (thanks in part to "comedy" and jokes), they will flinch horribly from just touching a gun...
 

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The extremes: videos The first video may be risky for work.
Extreme gun-fear illustrated*:

.577 T-Rex:

*I wish this clip didn't have the homosexual remarks. Please ignore them; preferences have nothing to do with weapons proficiency
 

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shep854 said:
Report and flash can also induce flinch.
Agree completely. I understand that the Ruger Blackhawks in .30 USC are very mild in felt recoil, but OMG what a blast and flash they make! I wouldn't doubt that someone--especially a relative newby--could develop a hella flinch from shooting one.

There's also the expectation/fear problem. If a newbie expects to get kicked silly (thanks in part to "comedy" and jokes), they will flinch horribly from just touching a gun...
I came up with a neat trick for tyros, especially women. Before we fire the first shot, (gun not yet in hand, as you'll see), I say "Woo-hoo! We're gonna SHOOT these bad boys! HIGH FIVE!" And then we high-five, and then I say, "Did that hurt? No? Well, that little hand-slap was several times MORE violent than any recoil you're going to feel today, so don't worry about recoil hurting you." It seems to work!
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Like that Snake...

I started shooting before hearing protection was invented and I think that is a very valid point. Hopefully by now most people know better than to shoot without it.
 

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Charlie Petty said:
Like that Snake...

I started shooting before hearing protection was invented and I think that is a very valid point. Hopefully by now most people know better than to shoot without it.
I keep remembering the first time I took my Commander out. The first mag full was great; when I fired the first round from the leloaded mag, it felt as someone shot jets of water into my ears! I thought the pistol had exploded, but I had simply forgotten to put my earpro back on.
 

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shep854 said:
Charlie Petty said:
Like that Snake...

I started shooting before hearing protection was invented and I think that is a very valid point. Hopefully by now most people know better than to shoot without it.
I keep remembering the first time I took my Commander out. The first mag full was great; when I fired the first round from the leloaded mag, it felt as someone shot jets of water into my ears! I thought the pistol had exploded, but I had simply forgotten to put my earpro back on.
I have tinnitus now from shooting without ear protection, along with being on the flightline with B-52's and KC-135's running engines and usually not plugging up my ears. Young and dumb...

I never shoot without hearing protection now. As for recoil, I'm alright up to .44 magnums (factory loads). I have no desire to shoot a 500 S&W or a 475 Linebaugh, or even a 454 Casull. I don't want, or see the need, for those heavily loaded 350 grain .44 Magnums from Bufallo Bore and such. A 12 oz .357 sounds ridiculous to me.

We've all seen "shooters" hand a newbie a hard kicking magnum and laugh like hell when they almost drop it after firing. Not funny. Not good for our sports.

Oh, and Charlie, I've run across a few former Marines on the range. Some could shoot, quite a few were so-so. Good on ya for trying to get that guys attention.
 

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IrishCop said:
As for recoil, I'm alright up to .44 magnums (factory loads). I have no desire to shoot a 500 S&W or a 475 Linebaugh, or even a 454 Casull. I don't want, or see the need, for those heavily loaded 350 grain .44 Magnums from Bufallo Bore and such. A 12 oz .357 sounds ridiculous to me.
Agree completely with every word of that.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
I have no desire to shoot a 500 S&W or a 475 Linebaugh, or even a 454 Casull. I don't want, or see the need, for those heavily loaded 350 grain .44 Magnums from Bufallo Bore and such. A 12 oz .357 sounds ridiculous to me.
You left out the 480 Ruger and 460 S&W. I was the first kid on the block to have both the 500 and 460 S&W and also the first to be asked why the bullets were so light... Actually I came to like the 500 a bit but with a really nice handload that made it equal a very hot .44 magnum. Heavy guns are sometimes cool.

I have a feeling that the marketing types know exactly what they're doing. I know when I got the .500 the elephants quit coming by.

I have a warm spot in my heart for most Marines amd used to go to Camp Swampy every month for the pistol match. They didn't even seem to mind when I beat them... :wink:
 

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IrishCop said:
I have tinnitus now from shooting without ear protection, along with being on the flightline with B-52's and KC-135's running engines and usually not plugging up my ears. Young and dumb...
Thankfully, I've always been aware of the need to protect my hearing. As a youth, I didn't see the fun in listening to rock music at ear-bleeding volume. If anything causes hearing discomfort, I find some sort of protection. Again thankfully, the human body is pretty good at absorbing the occasional lapse.
 

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Now Charlie, you know all Air Force personnel were required to take the class concerning treatment and interaction with those poor,unfortunate Marines. :mrgreen:

As for a flinch from gunfire, I don't think I can ruin my Ears anymore than they are. All those years of shooting without ear-protection plus working at a Jet-Engine factory(My workbench for five years was right next to a Test-Cell running J-79s constantly) have taken a big toll..
 

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Charlie Petty said:
I have no desire to shoot a 500 S&W or a 475 Linebaugh, or even a 454 Casull. I don't want, or see the need, for those heavily loaded 350 grain .44 Magnums from Bufallo Bore and such. A 12 oz .357 sounds ridiculous to me.
You left out the 480 Ruger and 460 S&W. I was the first kid on the block to have both the 500 and 460 S&W and also the first to be asked why the bullets were so light... Actually I came to like the 500 a bit but with a really nice handload that made it equal a very hot .44 magnum. Heavy guns are sometimes cool.

I have a feeling that the marketing types know exactly what they're doing. I know when I got the .500 the elephants quit coming by.

I have a warm spot in my heart for most Marines amd used to go to Camp Swampy every month for the pistol match. They didn't even seem to mind when I beat them... :wink:
Couldn't remember'em all, Charlie. Heck, Linebaugh alone has 4 or 5 of them heavy calibers, doesn't he?

I'll keep my eyes open for them rampaging elephants around North Alabama. If they start showing up, I'll grab me one of those hand held artillery pieces. :wink:
 

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You gotta remember I was a shooter and we were taught to be nice to everyone... seriously we went out of our way to help civilians at matches and would fix their guns... hell I even did one for some Army dude.

I guess I am lucky because compared to some of my writer buddies I've got great hearing. Tinnitus to be sure but we got those cute little plastic ear plugs in the film can thing that you put through a button hole. I hadn't been there long when we discovered the mickey mouse ears they gave flight line folks. There was some serious scrounging until our supply room got them in.
 

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The only handguns I have no desire to shoot again are firstly a Taurus Titanium in .44mag using a friend's handloads; I fired one round & handed it back. Secondly a Glock 30 in .45ACP which had a snappy recoil that meant regaining the target took a lot longer than with a 1911.
I seem to have avoided any inclination to flinch & when shooting long guns never notice the recoil until the next day when the bruises show. :D
 

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Well, since my ears are already screwed up from years (started at age 9) of shooting and flying light aircraft, I no longer really notice the deficency.

I do however, still recommend some field training in real life situations, without the ear muffs and glasses.
From most of the videos I have seen, and they are many, most of the people go into what I call the point and pull mode, emptying their weapon without hitting anything, or if they do hit anything, it's just dumb luck.

We shot an entire week on the range without muffs or glasses. Okay, so it did screw my ears up some, but I can still hear. Stationed at the Camp Lejeune Rifle Range Detachment I shot about three times a week, mostly the .45 cause it was close and there was almost always an empty station. We stood about 3 or 4 feet apart but the worst was the roof over our heads which really concentrated the reports. I didn't get to fire the M1 alot because most of the ranges were full. I did spot alot and that was still quite loud even being back some 6 feet or so in the midst of 25 people firing.

Crank off a .357 in a room without your muffs on and you will really find out how loud it can be. It will take some time before your hearing returns to normal.
 
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